Certain products are more sensitive to price differences than other. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little extra on something where the difference is clear, however at other times you can just as well save some money by buying a generic brand or substitute it with something else. So which products are worth splurging on and which ones could you save on? Splurge on:
- Olive oil - For bread dipping and toppings, a good quality olive oil does make a big difference. However, buy a cheaper brand to use when cooking, and save the good stuff for dishes when the flavor of the oil comes through especially well.
- Balsamic vinegar - A good balsamic vinegar doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive but can add a lot of flavor to a dish. The cheapest versions do taste inferior compared to a medium – to higher priced bottle.
- Canned tuna - Canned tuna is one of those items where a good quality brand can make a big difference in certain dishes. However, if you’re mostly making tuna salad with lots of mayonnaise, you might as well as go for a lesser brand. If on the other hand, you’re making oil-based tuna salads, or spaghetti dishes, then purchase the slightly more expensive brand.
- Ice cream - The flavors and textures between different ice cream brands can vary a lot, as can the prices. If you are making milkshakes, then the cheapest possible brands will do just fine. If however, you’re looking for good quality ice cream to enjoy as is, then a higher end brand does make a difference.
- Good “Dark” Liquor - When buying whiskey, brandy, bourbon etc… the higher priced bottles are of considerably better quality. If you are drinking this straight, then the quality will make all the difference in the world. And even if you’re making mixed drinks, the flavor of a bad bourbon will come through much more prominently than the flavor of a bad vodka.
- Canned vegetables - No-brand, generic names often taste just as good and sometimes the price difference can be quite high.
- “White” Liquors when making drinks - When you’re looking to buy vodka, gin or rum for the purpose of making mixed drinks, you won’t notice the difference if you buy generic brands. Especially when you are going to mix your liquor with something strongly flavored like Blue Curacao, Coffee Liqueur or Creme De Menthe.
- Cured meats - When a recipe calls for pancetta or even prusciutto, you can often get away with using bacon instead. Even though the flavor is not exactly the same, bacon provides a similar rich taste.
- Small packaged dry goods - Flours and different dry goods are usually not of a better quality if it comes nicely packaged. Find the bulk section in your grocery store and go for the cheaper alternatives. We have found that our local grocer uses better quality in their bulk section than they carry on the isle.
- High-end cheese for the purpose of cooking - When you’re making casseroles, lasagnas and other pasta dishes, you can often go for the lesser quality cheeses because there will be so many different flavors competing for attention. It is often unnecessary to utilize the higher priced fontina, gruyere, emmentaler or Parmigiano Reggiano when cooking.
- Vanilla Extract - Often chefs recommends using the highest priced vanilla extract that you can find. The truth is though, that when you're baking and adding vanilla extract to a variety of other ingredients you won’t be able to tell the difference. So unless you’re making a crème brule, or a vanilla ice cream where the flavor will be especially prominent, don’t buy the expensive brand.